Abu Dhabi police work nothing like Baltimore's Visitor: Officer from United Arab Emirates sees drugs, guns as key problems here. In his country, murders average one a year.

July 17, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Adnan Obaid Mohamed Al Zaabi thinks his country has a car theft problem. But the United Arab Emirates only has a handful every few months.

While Zaabi believes homicide is a troubling issue, his tiny desert nation averages only one a year.

So when the 33-year-old police captain from Abu Dhabi went for a ride with Baltimore police this week, he got a lesson in big-city crime.

In four hours Wednesday, he accompanied police responding to a mugging and to a family squabble, went on a drug raid and watched an officer fight a bureaucracy that couldn't tell him whether his department had towed a 1986 Toyota.

In this country for two weeks with four colleagues to learn about policing a U.S. city, Zaabi quickly summed up the city's social ills: "Drug and guns," he concluded, after watching officers use a battering ram to break down a door during a drug raid at Douglass Homes.

'Big and big'

"Big and big," agreed Officer Dave Gunter of the Southeastern District. "Too big."

Abu Dhabi has about the same size force as does Baltimore, 3,000 officers, but the oil-rich federation of seven emirates that once was part of the British Empire has far less crime. About the size of Maine and with a population of about 2 million, the Persian Gulf nation is one of the richest in the world.

The capital city is known for its skyscrapers and picturesque mosques. Citizens get government stipends for children along with free medical care and schooling. But because of the oil boom and the need for labor, less than 50 percent of the country's inhabitants are native-born.

Foreigners, who are not eligible for government benefits, cause most of the crime problems, Zaabi said.

According to the CIA, the United Arab Emirates is becoming a major transit point in the international heroin trade and money laundering business because of its free-trade zone in Dubai and its proximity to Asia.

But, asked about crime by Gunter, Zaabi, an 11-year veteran of his department, said in broken English, "We have very little compared to this."

Zaabi was struck by the poverty and the boarded-up houses he saw, but was reluctant to discuss his impressions of Baltimore.

He said car theft was a "common problem" in his homeland but, pressed for numbers, he said about six are reported nationwide each year.

Astonished by guns

He did dispel some common misperceptions about the Arab world. Zaabi said his country does not execute people who violate drug laws. He also said that not only are women members of the police force but they serve in supervisory roles.

He noted that police seize the cars of red-light runners for one month.

The captain, who patrols in a marked Mercedes-Benz, carries a weapon and handcuffs.

Zaabi was astonished to see so many guns on city streets. "In my country, people are not allowed to own guns," he said.

A half-hour later, he watched a dozen Housing Authority police officers break down a door in the Douglass Homes housing complex between East Fayette and Orleans streets.

Policing the same

Housing Police Lt. David Adams explained how a search warrant works and told Zaabi that drug dealers had taken over the local playground. He took Zaabi into the house and showed him two vials of crack cocaine, a Tec-9 semiautomatic handgun and a 30-bullet clip found on a bedroom dresser.

"We talked to the kid [a 17-year-old], and he told us he didn't have a lot of drugs in here," Adams told an intrigued Zaabi. "He told us he was working from the main stash in the courtyard."

Police found more drugs hidden in boots in a large trash bin in a playground full of children.

Gunter then responded to a report of a mugging near the Flag House Courts public housing complex off East Lombard Street. "A guy came up to me and told me to give him my wallet," the 65-year-old victim said. "I fought him."

The suspect not only got the man's wallet -- he ripped the man's pocket off his pants.

An officer caught the suspect and returned the victim's $7, and ** Zaabi watched as officers handcuffed the suspect and took a statement from him.

"Policing is the same in every country because people are the same in every country," Zaabi said. "If people don't have anything, they have to eat, then they have to do something to get food."

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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